How Spousal Support Works in California

Alimony ranks among the top hot-button issues in many California divorces. Spouses with high incomes worry about burdensome payments, while lower-earning spouses worry about not getting enough.

A valid prenuptial agreement can settle the issue of support payments well in advance. Unlike child support, couples are free to come to whatever agreement they like concerning alimony.

What to expect

Many divorcing couples nevertheless go on to litigate this issue. Understanding the way California law generally deals with this topic can help you calibrate expectations and insist on what is fair to you.

California courts may award temporary alimony, long-term alimony or both. A judge may order the payment of temporary support during the case until the court issues a final judgment.

Temporary support

Most often, temporary payment amounts are set using the same computer formula used to calculate child support, with net disposable income for the past year as a baseline. However, the court may depart from the formula if it sees a strong need to do so.

Long-term support

The final order will set long-term alimony if the court chooses to award it. Generally, long-term support payments are set for half of the duration of the marriage, though the court may set longer or shorter terms if it deems it necessary. No matter the term, support payments end if one of the exes dies, the receiving spouse remarries or the court issues a modification order.


Either spouse can request a modification of a support order if circumstances change materially, making the previous order inadequate or burdensome. One exception is if the spouses entered into a valid agreement specifying there will be no modifications.

Setting payment amounts

The court does not use a calculation formula to determine long-term support amounts. Instead, it examines the totality of the circumstances and examines several statutory factors to figure out a fair order. Major factors include the length of the marriage, whether the lower-earning spouse contributed to enable the higher earner to increase earning potential, the higher earner’s ability to make the payments, the living standard during the marriage, and the lower earner’s earning potential.

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